Once again Roanoke is honored to find itself among an elite assembly of communities from across the Nation, as a finalist for the All-America City Award promoted by the National Civic League. Why does this matter, for that matter why do any of the awards or recognitions bestowed upon Roanoke over the years matter? The short answer is that it is nice to see hard work acknowledged, but that is too simple an answer for something as prestigious as the All-America City Award. In this post I will share some of the reasons why I think such recognition is important and how it not only acknowledges the hard work of our community but also calls us to be better and do more.
The National Civic League and the Award
The City of Roanoke has been selected as an All-America City seven times - the first in 1952, and was the first City inducted into the All-America City Hall of Fame in 2019. The National Civic League was formed 125 years ago with the purpose of identifying and inspiring new models for governing and managing America’s cities, where incompetence, inefficiency, patronage, and corruption was quite common. Their achievements have included promoting professionalism in municipal services, supporting the establishment of the council-Manager form of government, electoral reforms and civic engagement.
It’s this last initiative, civic engagement, that is the cornerstone of the All-America City Award, which recognizes communities that leverage civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues.
Health and Well-Being
This year that local issue is the enhancement of health and well-being. This is an issue that I believe is especially relevant in Roanoke, both for the emphasis on health and bio-medicine as part of our local economy and also for the depth of inequities and issues that exist around health in several of our neighborhoods. The All-America City Award is not about what City government is or is not doing, rather it is about what the community has come together to do, with local government playing a role to convene and collaborate. In this regard around this issue of health and well-being, I believe we excel and that the efforts of our community are worthy of recognition.
For nearly a decade, starting in many ways with the stark realities on display in the Community Health Needs Assessments prepared in 2012, 2015, and 2018, individuals, institutions and organizations have reinvented themselves and collaborated and invested in responding to poor and inequitable health outcomes present in portions of our community. These partners have long recognized the issues and thus the response, transcends traditional health care to include underlying factors such as poverty and education along with a whole host of social determinants such as access to healthy food, safe housing, and early childhood learning.
By engaging with and carefully listening to those struggling with these challenges, meaningful interventions and actions have evolved. A network of no to low-cost health clinics exist in close proximity to the most vulnerable - the most recent embedded within an elementary school. The local United Way has completely reinvented itself from being merely a provider of funds to an organization funding initiatives that bring various providers of services together - rewarding collaborative responses to holistic health care. Healthy food is brought into the neighborhoods most in need, accompanied by an array of financial incentives to make the food affordable. A former crime-ridden nightclub has been turned into an asset where the community comes together to solve issues and challenges and to better themselves through career training - this within a neighborhood that has seen investments in new affordable housing, a new branch library and a community-designed barrier free playground - both the largest in the City, along with continued investment in streets, sidewalks and parks.
Making Progress but we can do BETTER!
This collaboration has brought together our most vulnerable residents, largest institutions and an array of non-profit service providers. Progress takes time but outcomes are improving- more children are reading proficiently, emergency department visits are declining, more are securing preventative health care and homes are safer. However, one of the reasons we have been an All-America City winner so often, and one of the principle reasons why I think it matters most, is that we are never satisfied, never complacent. Being in the company of so many cities trying so hard to better themselves continues to challenge us to do better. The inequities we see in health outcomes, important as they are, are really still just symptoms of even greater challenges and inequities associated with systemic and institutional racism.
So, even as we come together and celebrate our efforts at addressing health and well-being in our community, we must also use it as a call for more - a demand for meaningful transformation of our community. Together we must answer this call. That is why being an All-America City matters!
To learn more about the All-America City Award and about Roanoke’s selection as a finalist visit https://www.nationalcivicleague.org/2020-finalists/ . To follow Roanoke’s pursuit of the award you can follow us on social media: on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/RoanokeVa; on Twitter: @City_of_Roanoke and on Instagram at: city_of_roanoke. You can also join us as we present the work our community has done in addressing health and well-being, on Monday August 17 at 11:15 am at the All-America City Facebook livestream at https://www.facebook.com/AllAmericaCityAwards
-- Bob Cowell